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Stop the Presses [Excerpt]
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Though he was born in Bologna, it was in Provence that Giacomo di Bello first began to preach, and in Provence that he first gained his following, and in Provence that he promulgated the doctrines for which he burned, in Provence, in AD 1432. Recent historians have done much to rehabilitate the reputation of this otherwise-marginal figure, seeing in his preaching a nascent gesture toward our own thoroughly-modern strategies of digital distribution and easily-monetized subscriber bases, but our picture of Giacomo; his world, teaching, and followers; and the motivations of the inquisitors who demanded his condemnation has thus far been incomplete, or so argues Robert McPattin in this illuminating monograph from Edinburgh University Press. Including in extensive appendices the full correspondence of the Archbishop of Aix with the Papal court and the complete proceedings, for the first time in English, of Giacomo’s eventual, terminal ecclesiatical trial, McPattin argues convincingly that the assumption of his preceding peers, that the condemnation was motivated by the church and civil authorities’ fear of a platform that works for writers and allows them to easily reach and receive support from their audience without interference from editors or legacy publications, misses the central concern animating these 15th-century tribulations.
For it was not, in the view of the bishops of Provence or the theologians of Martin V’s curia, the novelty or ease of use of the distribution strategy Giacomo proposed which demanded censure, but the heretical ontological doctrine he smuggled inside: that in fact there was no world but that represented in newsletters, that what we refer to as “reality” is just a passing before a screen, and only when it is commented on and read about in a newsletter or bulletin does it attain existence—doctrines extended by Giacomo’s followers into a horrifying dogma of, and mandate for, the endless memetic proliferation of newsletters, zines, fliers, amateur periodicals of any kind. In exceeding their teacher these zealots, until their activity was finally dispersed in the early part of the 16th century, discovered what his preaching had always implied: that even a Substack is not real until it has been imitated.
—from “Stop the Presses,” Managing Editor Christopher McCaffery’s review of Bards, Books, and Bans: Journalistic Practice and Malpractice in the Middle Renaissance by Robert McPattin (2022, University of Edinburgh Press), in the Washington Review of Books March 2022 Print Edition